Tried this artisan pinutos sa kanto. A teeny drop is all it takes. Truly “extra hot spicy”! ” So where’d the chilies come from?” I asked the guy at the counter. He just grinned. I imagined they’re picked from the native chili tree that’s maybe by the gate, growin’ wild and bloomin’ free and unnoticed. Until somebody got a bright idea.
It’s not all fighting in this island. I learned that the Moro, though not so the younger generation, love coffee which Bisaya people here find strange as they’re not coffee drinkers. Or, should I say coffee is a staple for these natives- not the instant kind but the real brew. A typical family stores the drink in a flask or thermos to keep it hot throughout the day. They like it strong and sweet. Reminds me of Moroccan coffee.
Dodol is a toffee-like delicacy made of rice flour, coconut milk, and palm sugar. The ones I saw hanging from a road-side store while on a stop-over on my way to Cotabato City were wrapped in corn husks. The sweet treat is purportedly found all over Southeast Asia, but it was my first to see and taste one then. It was Ramadan at the time.
Home cooking skills have been all but killed by a number of sociological changes that have taken place since the 1950s. First there was the emergence of the self-service supermarket and with it prepared recipe meals such as tinned baked beans with sausages. The home workload for the housewife was lightening, and she was increasingly going out to work.
– The Nation That Can’t Boil An Egg, Rose Prince, The Independent
Sat down to this for dinner, the best for when you’re eating solo. I’ve been discovering, out of necessity, the truth in “the more you cook, the better you cook, the more you cook.” It’s going to be my personal “project” for the rest of the year.
For my daily fruit, I switch between bananas and avocados. Avocados are really cheap here (my fave words nowadays!) at 40 pesos per kilo (that’s about 4-5 medium sized ones). Fruits on the side make me less anxious about taking too much coffee.
In a previous article, I mentioned about an ongoing experiment to identify the reason for my allergy to seafood. I wrote that my “seafood allergy” might actually be allergy to preservatives applied at various stages in the supply chain. Recently, I learned something more- that it might also be from ingesting contaminated seafood, or seafood contaminated with various diatoms (which tell about the quality of sea or marine water the seafood came from), viz.
Paralytic shellfish poisoning is caused by saxitoxins, a complex of neurotoxins produced by dinoflagellates which are assimilated and temporarily stored by bivalve mollusks such as mussels, clams and oysters.
Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning is caused by K. Brevis blooms also known as “red tides”.
Amnesic shellfish poisoning is caused by the phytoplanktonic diatom Pseudo-nitzchia multiseries which are the source of the toxic agent identified as domoic acid. This potent neurotoxin accumulates in mussels and clams that feed on toxic plankton during their bloom.
Diarrhetic shellfish poisoning is caused from ingesting mussels, scallops, clams and oysters contaminated with biotoxins produced by toxic marine dinoflagellates during their blooms in summer.
Azaspiracids shellfish poisoning is caused by azaspiracids, polyether marine toxins that accumulate in various shellfish species.
The fact that I’m not having any allergic reaction to the seafood here implies the marine waters here are relatively toxin- or diatom-free. Wow. I have to tell communities here this, just so to motivate them to not tire in maintaining their coasts and seas.
Literature review: Chee K Woo and Sami L Bahna, Not all shellfish “allergy” is allergy! 10 June 2011. Clinical and Translational Allergy Journal, European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
My host organization said I should join them in their team-building event, to take a break even if for a day from an incredible month of hyperactivity not to mention, of late, anxiety. They have done an extraordinary job of facilitating my work so far as well as my security in the areas. Of the latter, I know they’re trying to hold in their worries and desire to guard over me 24/7. As for myself, apart from dealing with work pressure, I’ve lately been bombarded with new experiences almost on a daily basis that there’s no time for me to reflect and understand how they benefit my own life. Also, out there in the areas, there’s such a wealth of information and lessons that it’s made it extraordinarily challenging for me to sift through and obtain what’s just needed for the work I’m doing. Then, the usual pressure from family and friends- wtf are you still there for? When they say that…I start to have doubts- yeah, how the hell did I end up here? which I don’t like. Sometimes when I’m in this mood I imagine I’m in one of my favorite places to be…only that I’m fully clothed you know in case my folks decided to forcibly fly in through the roof and get me by the ears, clothed or not. Is why bombs are loathed- they’re like our parents in hyperwar mode.
But seriously by joining my host organization in their activity I wanted to convey my appreciation and gratitude. They’re my second family here, and since my entry into their lives their days have become uncharacteristically hectic. I so owe them some slack.
The event took place by the wonderful sea, in an open community training center maintained by their partner-organization. When we arrived, the distinct smell of goat meat (it’s halal) wafted in the air. We were told there’ll be papaitan and kaldereta on the table- yum! This reminded me of similar gatherings in my areas of assignment when I was younger, also the reunions at my grandparents’ during my childhood. The men did most of the cooking.
I’m already acquainted with the individuals there so I went around and joined in the conversation. Crowds is really a struggle for me although I can put a handle on this when it becomes a duty ie. work requires me to work the crowd. I could do it so well that people think I’m a go-getter. Ha! Besides, when you’re with village people, they scrutinize you with beetle eyes- they will right away pack off snobs or outsiders with no sense of humor. Once, I woke up in a depleted mood and no amount of self pep talk could elevate my mood. This showed through when I was facilitating a discussion with village women. Their faces reflected my mood. But I didn’t care. Then somebody said “no sense of humor” in reply to my question of what makes an effective volunteer. The body language of the other women screamed, oh my goodness. They were all looking at me like how children stare up at their parents when they knew they’ve crossed a no-no line, waiting for a punishment to come or not. The mental image tickled me and I laughed. The women’s bodies eased up a bit. Sense of humor is key to working well with villagers.
Then I moved into the hut where the men were cooking. Somebody asked if I wanted tuba. I said, yes sure. He handed me a cupful. And, it was unbelievably delicious- just the right sweetness and fermentation. The coconut juice had been collected very early that morning and fermented a few hours (it gets stronger the longer it’s fermented however 2-3 days would turn the juice to vinegar). Plus, I was told the container had been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, which explained why it tasted clean. I had two cups (which kind of alarmed them but I assured them that I have a high tolerance for alcohol). Then while watching them do their thing, we talked about local wines and drinks. This scene reminds me of my childhood during reunions, when I was usually with the men – my uncles and their cousins – watching whatever they were doing and listening to their talk. I have a few photos of those times (come to think of it, I haven’t asked who took the shots). So, growing up, I don’t know but I naturally gravitate toward the company of male friends and acquaintances. Their kind of talk is what I’m familiar with. But also because I find I can be my naturally straightforward self with them and nobody would take overt offense. Ha ha!
We also had prawns, freshly caught and (for me) unbelievably cheap at just 150 a kilo! About seafood, all my life I’ve reacted after digesting it or at times even from merely touching it hence avoided it. But my host organization upon learning this were horrified. The areas teemed with seafood. So we experimented (anyway, I brought my meds). First, pusit small and large ones. And what do you know- no reaction at all not even a hint of an itch. I thought about it. Then it dawned on me. Could it be the preservatives (applied along the supply chain as it makes it’s way to, for instance, Baguio City) and not the seafood? I told my host organization this which excited them some more about our experiment. Next, crabs. I had no reaction after the first. Wow! So I ate another one. Nada. Then, the prawns. No reaction. Amazing! I really am sure now my allergic reactions were due to preservatives. Goodness, how much nutrients did I lose from avoiding seafood?
How did the team-building go? It turned out that was just a bluff. The event was actually a “formal” welcome to me. Soon as the dishes were cooked and laid out, one of the organization’s staff called everyone inside the center, and after the usual how are you all feeling today? talk she then announced the real reason for the gathering. Ha! You thought I was a birthday girl, too stunned at first to react. But, really, it was such a gift.
The event is McDonald’s, but for some reason branches in Baguio have not reached out to their customers earlier and openly hence the poor turn out. I got irritated when the crew who approached me trying to “sell” the PHP49 coupon of hash browns and coffee(?) couldn’t explain to me the mechanics well. I don’t get this grumpy easily but having fasted the night before and having let out blood first thing that morning probably had messed up my body chemistry. So I gave him back the coupons and told him and the cashier I bloody want BREAKFAST not a hash brown or a muffin. Somehow that got everybody behind the counter laughing – perhaps the way I spoke – which eased my conscience a bit.
Then afterward I had dessert at Starbucks, for the reason that McDo doesn’t have hot chocolate. So yeah- my side of the story on such a day. McDonalds (franchise owners) has to step up standardization of customers’ brand experience across the country. Staying true to it’s advertisements, the same level of quality in service and products regardless of location, in Jolo or in Makati City, should be in place.
I’ve been inside plenty of branches across the country and my experience of the brand in each was far from standard. Such impacts on the overall brand quality. The question in the mind of the customer is, what makes this or that branch stand out from the rest? if there are branches that meet the McDonalds standards, how come it’s not happening in all?